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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Warnings: Terror Cells Ready to Strike; Interview with Tulsi Gabbard; Source: Belgium Terror Cell Linked to ISIS
Aired January 16, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- new terror arrests. Urgent police operations in countries across Europe.
Dozens of suspected militants taken into custody in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK.
Can officials stop the next attack?
Anatomy of a terrorist cell -- we have new insight from former jihadists, radicals and intelligence officers on the threat of the so- called sleeper cells, the threat they pose.
How and when they will be activated?
Tracking al Qaeda -- exclusive CNN reporting from inside Yemen, home to the terror organization's most active and most dangerous affiliate.
Is it orchestrating terror operations in Europe and the United States?
And courtroom outburst -- the parents of the man accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol, they shout to their son as he appears in court.
What were their emotional messages?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news, dramatic terror developments in Europe, where CNN has learned that terrorist cells may be poised to strike, prompting massive police operations to prevent another possible attack.
Dozens of suspects have been arrested in terror sweeps in several countries and the search for more continues right now.
At the same time, we're learning new information about the role al Qaeda in Yemen may be playing in all of this.
We're covering all angles of this fast-moving story with our correspondents in key locations, and our guests, including Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She's a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.
But we begin in Paris.
CNN's John Berman is there for us.
What's the latest you're picking up -- John.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the last 24 hours or so, there have been arrests in Belgium, in France, in Germany, in Italy, in England. One Western law enforcement official tells CNN it's like a slow motion car accident unfolding before our very eyes.
BERMAN (voice-over): Europe is on edge as police launch raids targeting terror cells across the continent.
A Western intelligence source tells CNN there may be as many as 20 cells with up to 180 people ready to strike in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
And in the past 48 hours, police in these countries have detained dozens of terror suspects. Jihadists, authorities say, who recently returned from fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Seventeen have been arrested in connection with an alleged terror plot in Belgium, including two individuals apprehended in France while trying to cross the border into Italy.
We're also learning new details about the Belgian terror plot. The suspects planned to shoot and kill police officers. Officials found handguns, bomb making materials, AK-47s, and, most importantly, police uniforms, in the raids.
Overnight, French authorities also detained at least 12 terror suspects connected to last week's deadly attacks in Paris. They are suspected of having provided support to Amedy Coulibaly. The man who attacked a kosher supermarket and killed four victims also murdered a police officer.
In the meantime, the terror threat remains high in Paris, where Secretary of State John Kerry marked his first visit since the attacks. He paid his respects at the kosher supermarket and visited the offices of "Charlie Hebdo."
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, I just -- I really wanted to come here and share a hug with all of Paris and all of France.
BERMAN: Back in Washington, President Obama, together with British Prime Minister David Cameron, vowed to continue to fight the threat posed by violent extremists.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ideology, the networks, the capacity to recruit young people, this has metastasized. I do not consider it an existential threat. This is a threat we will solve.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BERMAN: Secretary of State John Kerry, as we said, was here in Paris today. He said he was here to give the people of France what he called "a big hug." And this country still needs it, Wolf. They are still laying the victims of these attacks to rest -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people in France say it was a game- changer for them.
John Berman, thank you.
The Belgian terror plot wasn't a surprise to U.S. intelligence. We're now learning it had been on the radar for weeks.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
She's working this part of the story for us.
What are you hearing from your sources -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are getting the very rare look into the very secret world of intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and those European intelligence services.
STARR (voice-over): The U.S. intelligence community had been aware of the terrorist plot in Belgium for weeks and was sharing critical information with Belgian authorities. The plot was disrupted in a spectacular fashion, with shootouts and the arrests of 17 people across Western Europe.
ERIC VAN DER SYPT, BELGIUM FEDERAL PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE: This operation was meant to dismantle a terrorist cell, not only the terrorist cell, but also the logistics network behind it.
STARR: A U.S. official tells CNN the entire developing plot was being monitored and watched, part of an ongoing relationship between the U.S. and European intelligence services.
JEFF RATHKE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We've got active and ongoing law enforcement and information sharing arrangements with our allies in Europe, and, naturally, those contacts continue.
STARR: U.S. officials will not say precisely what they knew, how much they knew and when they knew it. There is concern those details could signal other militants planning attacks.
But one official says we were aware, we were tracking this, adding, "There is a high probability other attacks were being planned."
A European security source tells CNN that when Belgian authorities arrested two men returning from Syria over the weekend, they squeezed them for information and then decided to act quickly.
The U.S. was also aware of the timing of the moves by Belgian law enforcement, U.S. officials say.
FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Many of these individuals that they're targeting now are on U.S. watch lists. Of course, the concern is once these guys go fight, go back to Europe, they're able to fly to the United States without visas. And it's a five or six hour plane ride.
STARR: The U.S. intelligence community estimates more than 19,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria. Hundreds of them may be with ISIS, which has vowed to send loyalists to the West to attack.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
STARR: And as you know, the NATO military alliance is headquartered in Belgium. Tonight, they, too, are considering stepping up their security measures -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, that makes sense.
Thanks very much for that, Barbara Starr.
More now on the news that's just breaking. It turns out police so far have taken out only part of the terror network that's plotting attacks in Belgium.
Let's go to our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank -- Paul, you're getting new information.
What are you hearing about the terror cells and the possibility that not necessarily all of them have been rounded up?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I was just speaking to a senior Belgian counterterrorism source who says that they have rounded up part of this network, but they haven't rounded up the whole of the network in Belgium. So there is concern that there could still be some kind of operation, perhaps to avenge the death of these two terrorists who were killed in that building in Verviers. A lot of concern about that.
This was a very sophisticated group they were dealing with, Wolf, with links to ISIS in Syria people who had fought there, joined ISIS and come back, including the two people who were killed in Verviers.
They had obtained explosive precursors for TATP, the same explosive that al Qaeda was going to use in the plot in New York in 2009, powerful explosives. So concern that this was going to be a terrorism spectacular in Belgium.
They're not absolutely sure about the target yet. The reason why there was word that it might have been police stations and police officers is because they overheard them on wiretaps talking about, well, if we see some police officers, maybe we'll try and kill them. But they're not sure yet that -- the Belgians -- of what exactly the target was going to be from this group. But a lot of concern about this group.
Also, new information about the fact that the Belgians believe that this was being masterminded by an ISIS terrorist operative based in Greece, a Belgian who had fought in Syria and joined with ISIS and actually moved to Greece to run this operation.
The Belgians went to the CIA for help on this, to try and locate this terrorist middleman, point person in Greece. But they have not been able to locate this person yet. He's still at large. A lot of concern about that. Also, concern because this terrorist network in Belgium is believed to be connected to other ISIS-linked groups in other European countries. And, obviously, we've seen concern today expressed about the idea that there are other terrorist cells, perhaps also directed by ISIS, to launch plots in Europe. The European intelligence services are scrambling to understand what attack plans, if any, these other groups of individuals are trying to put into operation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, Paul, what you're saying is they found what you call explosive precursors that would be used to build some sort of bomb, but they have not yet built those bombs, right?
CRUIKSHANK: That's absolutely right. They hadn't started mixing what you need to mix to create TATP. You need to mix various chemicals, which you can actually obtain in the West.
But these are really tricky type of bombs to build and mostly you expect someone to need a significant amount of terrorist training, bomb making training, in a place like Syria, to be able to build a bomb like this.
So very significant new details. We're breaking all this information first, by the way, on CNN. This is not out there anywhere, including in Belgium.
BLITZER: It's amazing stuff.
And what you say is the police uniforms they found, they may not necessarily have suggested they were going after police themselves, but they potentially could have been using those uniforms to try to get through locations, is that what you're hearing?
CRUIKSHANK: Yes, that's exactly the concern, that they -- if they were able to dress in these police uniforms, that they could get access, perhaps, to sensitive sites and that this could have been a really quite ambitious plan, especially given the fact they had assembled this arsenal of Kalashnikovs, of grenades, but also these bomb making precursors, which they were aiming to make TATP out of, which is a high explosive, much more powerful than the explosive used in the Boston bombings, the type of explosive which was similar to the type of explosive which was used in the London bombings, which is actually HMTD, but a similar kind of explosive power.
So this was an ambitious plot. The Belgians, all the intelligence, as far as they're concerned, suggests that ISIS directed this, that there was a middleman, a key operational point person in Greece, still at large, a Belgian fighter who joined up with the group, who was running them from Greece.
The CIA brought in, but not yet able to locate this guy, nor have Greek authorities been able to locate this guy.
So this is a very fluid situation right now in Belgium, with fear that remaining cell members that might be out there may launch revenge attacks for the fact that two of these fighters have been killed.
The one guy they have in custody, they say he's just not talking -- Wolf.
All right, Paul Cruickshank doing excellent reporting for us.
Thanks very much.
Let's talk about all of this.
Joining us, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
She sits on both the Armed Services and the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congresswoman, you hear this reporting from Paul Cruickshank and others.
What's your reaction?
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: I think this is really just a sign of how deep the problem is, not only in Belgium, but also across Europe, across many of these EU member countries. And I think there are some really important lessons for us here in the United States to learn from all this.
I think we've seen, over a very long period of time, that, you know, Belgium and France and some of these other countries, they hadn't done nearly enough to really check the travel, for example, of their citizens and residents going to places like Syria, going to places like Yemen, and then keeping track of them.
We've heard and learned a lot more in the last few days about the free and open travel between these EU member countries and how Turkey really is the number one transit point for these foreign fighters who are carrying Western passports to travel through Turkey, again, without having their passports checked at all, into Syria, and then coming back home and starting these sleeper cells, you know, plotting to -- plotting these attacks.
And this is really an important lesson for us here in the United States to learn and making sure that we don't allow the same thing to happen here as we're seeing happening across Belgium and different parts of Europe right now.
BLITZER: And you also speak with some personal perspective. You served in the U.S. military in Iraq. As you know, Congresswoman, authorities now say maybe 120, 180
terrorists could be ready to strike in these sleeper cells in Europe.
Do you believe that same threat already exists here in the United States?
GABBARD: Well, I think we know and we have heard that there have been foreign fighters who are U.S. citizens and U.S. passport holders who have gone and traveled freely into places like Syria or Iraq and come back home. They still are U.S. citizens. They still carry their passports. And I'm sure that there are others that we don't know about.
And this is where it's so important for us, as we look at this threat, to make sure that we focus our resources on those who are posing a threat to the American people.
We've been hearing from some folks recently, and I think we may hear a lot more from people who will advocate for greater surveillance, greater NSA programs than we have seen already, expanding those, which is not the right move, A, because they haven't been proven to be effective, that spying on and collecting phone call information on every single American is effective in capturing terrorists, but it also weakens our ability to focus our resources on those who pose a direct threat.
And I think this has been a problem that we've seen in the Boston bomber attack, for example, that we've seen in Paris, where people fall through the cracks because our resources are not focused on those who are planning these attacks and who do pose that direct threat.
BLITZER: Congresswoman, I want you to stand by. We have more to discuss. We're following the breaking news. We've got to take a quick break. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A source now telling CNN parts of that Belgium terror cell, that sleeper cell, remain at large right now.
We're back with Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
Congresswoman, this Belgium plot, it involved all sorts of characters, apparently, and it's still out there, as you just heard. Should all U.S. law enforcement be on a higher state of alert right now?
GABBARD: Yes. I think there's no question about that. And I think, in addition to that, we really need to look at what are some of the weaknesses that we have here, here at home. And there's two areas that I'd like to point out.
First of all, as we look at the open travel in Europe amongst the E.U. member countries specifically, as we look at the porous borders that exist between Turkey and Syria and how people seem to freely move from, let's say, France or Belgium through Turkey and into Syria and back out again without being tracked, we've got to look at our visa waiver program here, which is of great, great concern, given the fact that people are able to, as members of these visa waiver countries, basically get on a plane and come to the United States without really having a history of either Europe or the United States, understanding that they have traveled through Turkey and into Syria and are part of this radical Islamic extremist terrorist movement.
That's something that I have called for in the past and continue to call for, a suspension of the visa waiver program until this is brought under control and these borders are controlled, in particular -- excuse me, in particular between Turkey and Syria.
BLITZER: Well, why isn't the Turkish government -- Turkey's a member of NATO, doing more to stop that kind of free flow between Turkey and Syria? I know many of your colleagues in Congress are very upset about that. I know many administration officials I've spoken with over the past few days, they don't know why Turkey is not taking more direct action.
GABBARD: I think it's a great question. I think there's -- Turkey must do more. Turkey needs to do more. The lax enforcement that we've seen across the borders so far has been unacceptable, especially for a NATO country like Turkey, and the lack of really enforced terror watch lists that people from Turkey to France and different E.U. countries, United States, can tap into to recognize exactly who these people are, where they're going and what they're doing so that we can prevent these kinds of attacks from happening again.
And I think this is where countries like the United States, countries within Europe, need to exercise their muscle and their leverage to get Turkey to step up to the game.
BLITZER: Are you concerned that maybe some of the allies out there aren't themselves doing enough to monitor, to track some of these terror suspects out there, Congresswoman?
GABBARD: Yes. I am concerned and in particular, between again, these E.U. member countries that these terror watch lists are not where they need to be. Again, that these individuals are not being tracked as closely as they need to be, if at all, and unless and until that happens, you can talk about intelligence sharing and other things that need to occur, but if the value and the quality of that intelligence is not accurate or not complete, then that just shows we've got some huge gaping holes within our national security.
BLITZER: You served the United States military in Iraq, and thank you very much for your service, Congresswoman. When you see what's going on right there, what goes through your mind, the huge amount of Iraq, including areas where U.S. military personnel gave their lives in huge numbers that now is under the control of ISIS after the Iraqi military in big parts of the country, including Mosul, the second largest city there, simply abandoned their weapons and ran away? GABBARD: Well, it sickens me, Wolf, you know. Like so many
other people who I served with and service members who served both in Iraq and in other places, unfortunately, we lost friends there who paid that ultimate price.
And what is so frustrating now as we look at the situation there, our administration refuses to recognize who our enemy is. And unless and until that happens, then it's impossible to come up with a strategy to defeat that enemy.
We have to recognize that this is about radical Islam. This is as much a military war as it is an ideological war, and we've got to understand what that ideology is and challenge it, understand it so that we can defeat it and protect our citizens, protect the American people.
That's something that has to be done in order for us to look at places like Iraq, places like Syria and places, really, in different parts of the world -- North Africa, Nigeria.
This is not just about one group called ISIS or another group called al Qaeda. This is about an overall threat posed by this radical Islamic extremist agenda that exists all around the world as we are seeing, unfortunately, most recently in Paris and in Europe.
BLITZER: So very quickly, Congresswoman, you're upset you didn't hear those words from the president today. Is that what you're saying?
GABBARD: I'm upset that the president and the White House, whether it's today or yesterday or tomorrow, is not actually saying this is a war that the Islamic extremists are posing against the United States and against the west, and we recognize who our enemy is and come up with a strategy to defeat that enemy.
It's going to be slightly different in different places. It will be different in Iraq and different in Nigeria.
But unless and until you recognize who our enemy is and understand them, then we won't be effective in defeating that threat, and we're going to continue to see the kinds of tragic incidents that we've seen most recently in Paris.
BLITZER: It is so heartbreaking. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, thanks very much for joining us.
GABBARD: Thanks. Aloha, Wolf.
Coming up, inside a terrorist sleeper cell. New details of the threat they pose and how and when they might be activated.
Plus, new details of the emotional outburst by the parents of that young American terror suspect as he appears in court today.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, a source now telling CNN police discovered the Belgian terror cell possessed powerful explosives and some members of the terrorist cell remain at large.
The shootout in Belgium and the Paris terror attacks highlight the growing threat posed by terror cells, including cells possibly operating, possibly, right here in the United States.
Brian Todd is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM with a closer look at how these so-called sleeper cells actually operate.
What are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is the danger of sleeper cells that we are looking at tonight, Wolf. A Western official with knowledge of the Paris investigation tells CNN there is huge concern over sleeper cells in Europe and elsewhere. The fear is over the unknown, when, where and how they'll strike.
TODD (voice-over): A terror cell disrupted, but Europe is still bracing for more attacks. A Western intelligence source tells CNN there could be several sleeper cells ready to strike in France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Tonight, new concerns about their planning and timing.
ED HUSAIN, FORMER RADICAL: Then the worry is how and when will they be activated.
TODD: Former jihadists and intelligence officers tell CNN a sleeper cell is usually made up of a few operatives. They're either acting on behalf of a foreign country or a terror group taking instructions from it or are simply inspired by a group and acting on their own. As Paris gunman Amedy Coulibaly appeared to do. They are living in the city where they want to strike, selecting targets.
MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER: They already are there and they have that ability to cross borders, they have that ability to live without being on the radar screen.
TODD: They are highly skilled at blending in, appearing like the guy next door.
MUBIN SHAIKH, FORMER JIHADIST: He will have regular jobs, you might see them at the strip joint, drinking alcohol. Anything to take off the claim or suspicion that they might be extremist Muslim terrorists.
TODD: The 9/11 hijackers did that, reportedly drinking heavily in bars, some even going to strip clubs.
Mubin Shaikh is a former jihadist who almost went to Iraq to fight. He broke away, went undercover for Canadian intelligence and helped bust a terror cell in Toronto. He says many sleeper operatives don't communicate with their handlers by phone or over the Internet. Some are told don't go to mosques, don't give a hint of your religion.
SHAIKH: Could be shave your beard, remove your religious garb. Anything to blend in. That will be determined by the handler or sometimes even the operatives in the cell itself.
TODD: Sleeper operatives stay isolated, experts say, sometimes lie dormant for years.
HUSAIN: They wait for an opportune moment when world attention is turned away, when their planning phase is over, to strike.
TODD: And the sleeper cell dynamic is always changing. One U.S. counterterrorism official tells me terror cells these days do less sleeping. They actively plot. They hope to avoid suspicion and often direct a terror strike themselves rather than wait for a signal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And these days, the sleeper cell operatives, Brian, they are a whole lot more tech-savvy, aren't they?
TODD: Tech savvy is right, Wolf. A counterterrorism official told me this is a new generation of terrorists. They understand the more their operatives call, e-mail or otherwise message their handlers, the more likely those communications are to be intercepted. So they just find other ways to communicate. This official says this is partly the result of the Edward Snowden leaks.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, good reporting. Thank you.
With us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN intelligence and security analyst, the former CIA operative, Bob Baer. Also, Philip Crowther, the Washington correspondent for France 24 Television. Our CNN global affairs analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel James Reese, and joining us once again our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, who's been breaking a lot of news on all of this for us.
Paul, we know the Belgian terror suspects out there, they were supposedly ready to attack possibly only hours away from launching their strike. How many other terror cells potentially could be out there actively plotting attacks right now?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there's concern both in Belgium and Europe. The concern in Belgium is they didn't get all of these guys, that they only got part of the network. They are confident they got the part of the network they were sort of most worried about, but that they fear that there are others still out there and that they could avenge the fact that Belgium security forces killed two of their comrades in Verviers in eastern Belgium.
On the European level, there's concern that there's connections between some groups in other countries and this network in Belgium, that the Belgians believe that there are actually connections and that they've also got some marching orders from ISIS to launch attacks in Europe, and European intelligence agencies have received indications that ISIS are pivoting towards launching attacks in Europe to retaliate for those air strikes against it in Syria and Iraq. Several European countries involved in airstrikes over Iraq -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bob Baer, how are these sleeper cells monitored? How big of a role does the United States play in assisting these allies?
ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Wolf, it's huge. The National Security Agency has these super computers and they run this metadata through them. And if there's a call, for instance, from Brussels to an exchange in, let's say, Dubai that's suspicious, that will send up a red flag. Enough of those red flags, they have a suspect and then they will inform the Europeans.
The National Security Agency is very, very good at this. Their algorithms are very sophisticated. It doesn't tell you where an attack will be but it will start associating people which is enough to launch an investigation.
BLITZER: Colonel Reese, we now know that those terror suspects in Belgium, they had police uniforms, the original assumption was they were going to use those uniforms and target police facilities throughout Belgium, but now the suspicion is they were going to use those uniforms simply to get through police lines and go after other targets. This is potentially a pretty sophisticated operation.
COL. JAMES REESE (RET.), FORMER U.S. DELTA FORCE OFFICE: Well, Wolf, we've seen this in Iraq and some other places where they will steal police uniforms and then use those uniforms to use as a cover for action. People see the police uniform, they think they're the real police, they let them get right through the lines, and it's a great opportunity to attack using that cover for action as police.
BLITZER: Philip, what's going on in France right now? I assume the sweeps are continuing there. They are trying to close up these sleeper cells as well.
PHILIP CROWTHER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, FRANCE 24: Yes. Two separate situations we're looking at here. The terrorist cell in Belgium and then of course what happened in Paris last week. There is no clear overlap at this point but what we are seeing, though, are arrests, for example, in France earlier today of two people who are suspected of being in connection with that Belgian terrorist cell. So there's a way the two police forces probably are working together.
At the same time we're still seeing some developments in France. There have been plenty of arrests in connection with what happened in Paris last weekend, more specifically with Amedy Coulibaly, the man who attacked the grocery store.
The people who have been arrested over the last day or so they are supposed to be the people who have been organizing the logistics for Amedy Coulibaly, not part really of a big terrorist cell, but those who may be organized some weapons for him, at the very least some kind of transportation, a car, maybe.
These are the kind of people who might get some more information on how he functioned, maybe also how the Kouachi brothers functioned because after all we know there was contact between those brothers and Amedy Coulibaly.
There are developments in France these last few days, but nothing of a real breakthrough at this point.
BLITZER: And we know that Jewish schools and institutions throughout France are getting extra security right now.
CROWTHER: In France and in Belgium as well. There is that type of protection. It's been in place for quite a few days now with 10,000 French soldiers on the streets of French cities. They are protecting government offices but, as you say, Jewish schools, synagogues as well, and the same at this point is happening partly in Belgium. There is some overlap there as well.
It doesn't mean that these are connected events, really, but certainly the same types of risks and the same types of precautions that not only the military is taking, all sorts -- all the security forces in both France and Belgium.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Paul because he's got -- done some excellent reporting on this. Throughout Europe right now, they're worried about these Jewish institutions, but give us your sense of what's going on specifically in Belgium.
CRUICKSHANK: Well, they are working around the clock to try and find the other parts of this terrorist network in Belgium, Wolf, who are behind this. Very significant ambitious terrorist plot that not only involved Kalashnikovs and grenades, but also involved the making of TATP, a high explosive, much more powerful than the explosive that we saw in the Boston attacks.
I was told by this source that when the Belgian forces went into this building, there was just one hell of a firefight. The returning fire they got was really quite extraordinary. That the special forces guys who went in there, the police that went in there, had never witnessed anything like this ever in Belgium. They had Kalashnikovs, grenades. Eventually the Belgians were able to take them out and they were able to capture one of these suspects.
That suspect is not talking at the moment, not giving up any more operational detail. They will obviously be trying to make him talk about possible other individuals in Belgium and even in other European countries because the belief is that this group, this network in Belgium, did have connections to other potential cells in other European countries. So this is all linked back to ISIS -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to have all of you stand by because there's a lot more to discuss.
Coming up, exploiting chaos to train a new generation of bomb makers. We have exclusive reporting from a CNN crew inside Yemen.
And a U.S. terror suspect goes to court. We're going to hear from a CNN reporter who was inside the courtroom, heard the outburst by the suspect's father.
BLITZER: Chaos in a country President Obama once pointed to as a success story in the war on terrorism and it's allowing al Qaeda to train a whole new generation of bomb makers, plan new attacks against the West.
Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has some exclusive reporting from the capital of Yemen, a country that's also home base for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
And, Nick, a very courageous journalist who's joining us from Sana'a right now, the capital of Yemen.
Nick, tell our viewers what you're seeing, what you're hearing.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a key thing, explanation I have from a Western diplomat today is to how Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has managed to use the chaos here to its advantage. It's basically in the last few months we've seen an increasingly sectarian part of the conflict that's engulfed this nation giving a potential home to al Qaeda for years, is going increasingly sectarian and there's a predominantly Shia group called the Houthis who've swooped in to the capital taking a lot of it.
They are really the rivals to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who allied to lots of other Sunni tribes, that same Sunni-Shia rift has been engulfing much of the Middle East. But because there are so many scared Yemenis here who are Sunni, too, joining al Qaeda's side, taking up arms to assist them, that's given al Qaeda a little bit of space here on the local battlefield to breathe. In the words of one local diplomat, it's given them a chance to focus a little more on their external operations.
That's what they call attacks against the West, basically. Allowing them to groom what they refer to as this next generation of bomb makers, people adept in making non-metallic devices. That's the kind of fear that many intelligence agencies still have about Yemen. They don't need to bring people here, just transmit those techniques over the Internet using things like al Qaeda's "Inspire" magazine.
One more interesting thing we found out today, Wolf, people poring over the precise nature of the Kouachi brothers' trips here. One Interior Ministry official saying to us the first one was by the elder brother, Said, in August 2009, and he came two or three times up until 2011 or 2012.
A lot of history here, a lot of arms as the people are still looking to Yemen to try and provide but frankly, the economy here is close to collapse, it's a failing state, very hard for Yemeni officials to give that sense of clarity -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You get outside of the capital Sana'a where you are, and it's a real, real disaster over there and a breeding ground for these terrorists to be sure. Nick Paton Walsh, be careful in Yemen for us. Nick doing amazing work
for all of us.
Here in the United States, shouts from a suspect's father disrupt today's court hearing for the man accused of trying to plot to bomb the United States capitol. We have a live report is coming up.
And right at the top of the hour, we are getting new details about the breaking news. A source telling CNN members of that Belgian terror cell have the components to make powerful explosives. And some members of the terror cell right now are still very much at large.
BLITZER: What turned out to be a bizarre court appearance, an Ohio man accused of plotting to bomb the United States capital was ordered to stay in jail as he awaits trial.
Let's go to Cincinnati. CNN's Alexandra Field is joining us. She was inside that courtroom.
So tell our viewers, Alexandra, what happened.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is the first time that Chris Cornell's family has seen him since he was arrested and accused of a terrible plot against the U.S. capitol. He walked into the courtroom. And that's when his parents started to shout out at him. His mother saying, I love you. His father warning his son, don't trust anyone.
The defendant, the suspect here, did not engage with his family. He did sit and speak quietly with his attorney before the proceedings began. And then he stood up in front of this federal court judge in his stripes, in his shackles. She denied a request for bond. At the same time the attorney representing Cornell made a couple of other requests.
She said that Cornell would like to be called by his Muslim name in the duration of any court proceedings. She also asked that he be provided with a clock and a prayer mat at the Butler County Jail where he's being held so that he can do his prayers five times a day. And she also requested to have her client taken off of a suicide watch -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You're also getting new information about the alleged plot, right?
FIELD: That's right. When the judge talked about her decision to deny an opportunity for bond, she said it was because Cornell poses both a significant risk to public safety based on seriousness of the allegations that he faces, and because she considers him a flight risk. And we've learned more about that. She says not only is there this plot that he is alleged to have been cooking up this thought that he would go to the Capitol police, bombs and then shoot people as he fled. But we are now hearing from the judge that investigators say he had
actually put a plan into place to get himself to Washington. He had also left a note for his parents telling them that he would be staying at a friend's house, presumably so that they wouldn't be going to look for him.
So the judge says the fact that he had purchased weapons, according to police, and also put together this plan to in fact get to D.C. made him too significant to be in his home even under surveillance and supervision. It's the reason she said that he needed to be remanded to the Butler County Jail where he is tonight.
BLITZER: All right, Alexandra, thanks very much. Alexandra Field reporting for us from Cincinnati.
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